The year is quickly slipping away, meaning the inevitable stress of managing academics, extracurricular activities and a social life will soon be upon us again. With so much to balance, it’s very tempting to let nutritious eating, exercise and other healthy habits fall by the wayside. But have no fear! You can keep your body and mind in tiptop shape amid the craziness of college life by making just a few simple commitments. Here are 11 resolutions you can make that will help you have the healthiest and most fulfilling semester yet – especially as many of you head back to campus for the first time in almost a year.
1. I'll work out three days per week
Spending some time at the gym can do wonders for both your mental and physical health. A workout will make you feel more energized and help you successfully take on your jam-packed days.
Katie Ferraro, a registered dietician and assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of San Diego, says working out will make you feel better. “In addition to all of the calorie burning you can get in, exercise releases endorphins and feelings of pleasure,” she says. “It can be a positive way to deal with stress and depression, as opposed to binge drinking or overeating.” Certified holistic health coach Carly Lockman says cardio also helps release dopamine and serotonin, which help with managing stress – something that surely benefits any college student!
Ferraro recommends working out at least 150 minutes per week. You can even break the workout down in multiple ways. “Think of working out like your job (or school): You do it five days per week, and at least 30 minutes per day,” Ferraro says. “You can do three 10-minute workouts, five six-minute workouts, or one 30-minute workout.”
Melanie D. Ludwig, a personal trainer and owner of Prestige Fitness Inc., in Manchester, N.H., recommends doing a combination of cardio and weight and resistance training to stay fit and toned. “Muscle mass improves metabolic rate, and if you’re standing better, you’ll feel better and want to do more cardio, so it should be a balance,” she says. “If you’re looking to lose weight, as in body mass, you should make it an even blend of cardio and weight training. If you like one more than the other, force yourself to do the other a couple times a week.”
In figuring out your gym routine, you should always remember to set feasible goals. If you’ve been completely slacking off on going to the gym lately, you won’t want to dive right into doing an intense workout every day. Instead, try doing a couple long workouts per week or more frequent shorter routines and working up from there. “Be realistic and set goals that work for you but that are attainable,” Ferraro says.
Ludwig suggests integrating exercise into your normal routine to make it more fun and convenient for you. “You want to try to fit it in when it’s real,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with getting on the treadmill with your favorite show if that’s what it takes to motivate you.”
2. I'll go to a group fitness class
If you find it difficult to get to the gym yourself, sign up for a group fitness class with a friend. The commitment to both the class and your friend are great motivators to get you in the mood to exercise! Certified nutrition specialist Jason Boehm recommends any high intensity class. Classes like CrossFit, kickboxing or spinning can all give you a great workout that’ll really make you sweat. Check out your school gym’s website or other local facilities’ websites to find out the options they offer.
In choosing a fitness class, Ludwig recommends going for something that you’ll be likely to enjoy, but also mixing it up once in while to get varied workouts. “For someone who likes Zumba, it’s awesome to do a spinning class once in a while,” she says. “For someone who likes cardio, it’d be great for someone like that to get into circuit training sometimes.”
3. I'll run a road race
Running a road race is a fun way to motivate yourself to keep in shape. The goal of completing the course will help you set up a consistent exercise routine for training. When race day comes around, the motivation will surely keep coming as bystanders cheer for you from the sidelines! Plus, as Ferraro suggests, you can even run on behalf of a charity to give back to others. There couldn’t be a better way to get a runner’s high!
Hillary Coombs, a recent grad of Bryant University and the co-founder and campus correspondent for HC Bryant, ran a half marathon last May. This prompted her to devise a training schedule. “I set a resolution to run two times a week and build up my distance by 0.5 miles each week,” Hillary says. She added that she ran with a friend, which she says helped her stay motivated to keep training.
If you’re a total running newbie, you can try Couch to 5K to get you started. Also, if the thought of running a race seems daunting, you can ease your nerves and spice up the run by participating in a themed event. The Color Run, a 5K race during which runners are covered in colored powder, and the 5K Foam Fest, which features a slew of obstacles sure to get you wet and muddy, are just some of the many fun options out there. You can check out sites such as Road Runners Club of America’s page or Active.com to find races in your area!
4. I'll take the stairs instead of the elevator
With all the stairwells spread in dorms, apartments and class buildings, there are plenty of opportunities to get some exercise without even thinking about it. If you live a few floors up in your apartment or res hall or have a class on the top floor of a building, make a habit of taking the stairs up to your place or classroom instead of using the elevator.
According to Livestrong.com, a person weighing between 160 pounds burns about nine calories per minute of stair climbing. There’s no easier way to build a little leg toning into your daily routine! Plus, you won’t have to wait for the elevator and cram yourself in once it arrives. The stairs are a win-win all around!
5. I'll join an intramural sports team
Intramurals have the advantage of letting you get fit while socializing with other students and potentially trying something new. Many teams only practice once a week, so there’s no excuse to not get out there and play for an hour or so! Join a team from your dorm or another organization you’re involved with on campus. You could try out soccer, basketball, ultimate Frisbee or whatever else your school might offer.
Ludwig says the competitiveness of sports, such as tennis, is beneficial for your health and helps you burn calories. “If you’re very competitive, just the adrenaline rush of playing a game for points … will keep you going,” she says.
6. I'll cook for myself five times per week
When you have a busy schedule, it’s probably more appealing to make a quick call to the nearest pizza joint for a delivery order than to whip up something yourself. But while this may be convenient in the short run, it’s going to take a toll on your body (and your wallet!) later on.
Ferraro suggests limiting eating out to one to two times per week and planning out your meals ahead of time so that you’ll always have something healthy on hand when you’re hungry. “You should be making and taking your lunch to work and school, keeping in mind the mantra, ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,’” she says.
Eating in allows you to control what goes into your food, Lockman says. And what you add will be better than what the restaurants are putting in! “Most restaurants focus on using ingredients that are extremely cost effective,” Lockman says. “All too often, these ingredients are highly processed, containing harmful additives and lots of refined sugar.”
When you cook for yourself, whether in an apartment or in your dorm’s kitchen, you also have much better control of your portion sizes than when you eat out. You have every nutrition label at your disposal, so you can be sure to stick to the recommended serving sizes, which are typically much smaller, more appropriate portions than those served at restaurants.
Cassie Brown, an alumna of Wake Forest University, is moving into an apartment with a kitchen this coming year, which she says will give her more say in what she eats. “This year I'm going to try to cut out processed foods and focus on more natural, nutrient-enriched foods,” she says. “For example, I'm going to be eating more quinoa and kale, oats, etc. I'm going to be reading labels more carefully so I can avoid high fructose corn syrup and flour.”
But for those of you who will be living in dorms, there are still options for you to keep up healthy eating habits. Some tips: Ask for whole grain breads at dining hall sandwich stations, steer away from the fried fare and go for salads (but be careful not to pour on too much dressing!), and keep some fruit on hand in your room to help you beat a late night sugar craving.
However, most college students eat out at least sometimes, so when you do, look up the nutrition information of different dishes beforehand if it’s available. What may look like a healthy salad on the menu could actually be loaded with fatty, high-calorie dressings and toppings, so it’s best to know what you’re actually eating!
7. I'll watch what I eat late at night
With the crazy working (and partying) hours typical of college students, you’re bound to get an occasional craving for a late night snack. While eating late isn’t the most ideal habit (Boehm recommends you stop eating three hours before bedtime), you can still make the best of it by watching what you’re munching on.
There are some snacks that are better than others if you’re going to eat soon before turning in for the night. “If you feel that you must eat late, try to avoid sleep disrupters like greasy foods, sugary foods and anything with caffeine or alcohol in it,” Lockman says. “Working to balance your macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbs) in your three large meals throughout the day will cut late night cravings.” In order to do this, try incorporating a combination of important food groups into each of your meals. For example, a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread can give you carbs and protein, and a salad with some berries thrown in will give you some much needed servings of fruit and veggies.
You should also pay attention to food and drinks that you may not realize contain sleep disrupters. For example, green tea and chocolate contain caffeine, Ferraro says, so be sure to cut back on those soon before bed, too.
8. I'll sleep seven to eight hours per night
While watching what you eat at night will be sure to help you sleep better, you still need to make sure you’re sleeping enough! Mayo Clinic sleep specialist Timothy Morgenthaler recommends seven to eight hours of sleep per night for adults.
If you know you have to wake up at 8 the next morning, make yourself get into bed by 12 a.m. or 1 a.m. This will be more feasible if you shut down your laptop and silence your phone (or set it to “Do Not Disturb” if you have an iPhone) at least 30 minutes before bedtime so you can help yourself wind down and make sure nobody wakes you with a text as you drift off. Additionally, cut down the time you spend online and on your phone during the day, which will help you get your work done more efficiently and leave you time to relax and prepare yourself for bed in the evening. What’s the best tip for staying focused on your work? Staying energized with exercise and small frequent snacks. See? The secrets to a healthy lifestyle are all interconnected!
9. I'll watch what (and how much) I drink
When you’re back on campus, it’s likely you’ll be kicking back with a drink at least every once in a while. But it’s important to be mindful of what you have. If you’re planning to drink, go for something low in calories and lay off anything loaded with sugar. Long Island iced teas and margaritas, for instance, have more than 700 calories each, so it’s wise to steer clear of those.
A serving of a light beer, red wine or white wine has about 100 calories and a shot of hard liquor contains 80 to 130 calories, depending on the proof (calorie content goes up as the proof increases), so having one or two of these won’t kill your diet.
If you want to add different flavors to your drinks, there are healthier ways to do it! “Rather than mixing alcoholic drinks with soda, I’m going to use club soda, and if I want something sweet I’ll use natural honey,” Cassie says. You can also try squeezing a lemon or lime wedge, or even a grapefruit slice, in your drink for a healthier way to add more flavor.
To make sure you have healthier chasers on hand at a party, plan ahead and bring your own wedge of fruit or low-calorie juice. Naturally flavored seltzer water is another calorie-free mixer or chaser.
10. I'll drink water instead of soda
There are many good reasons to love water! Ditching the soda and sugary drinks in favor of some H2O will help you stay energized for longer, as soda contains empty calories with no nutritional benefits, so it doesn’t fill you up. The Mayo Clinic recommends that adult women drink about nine cups of water per day.
“Replacing pop or coffee drinks with water is a great resolution,” Lockman says. “This gets you off of the caffeine and sugar ‘roller coaster,’ which is characterized by a rapid increase in energy followed by an extreme crash, and improves daily productivity, as well as mental outlook and clarity.”
Drinking water also results in other health benefits. These include better skin, improved kidney function and calorie control. And don’t forget about all the money you can save by not purchasing expensive soft drinks whenever you go out. You really can’t go wrong with H2O!
11. I'll relax for a half hour per day
With all the hard work you’re putting in during the day, you’ll need to take a break to maintain your sanity. Set aside at least a half hour each day to do something just for the fun of it. Pick up a book you’ve been longing to read, watch an episode of your favorite TV show, go for a walk with a friend, practice that instrument you’ve been neglecting for a while or listen to some tunes on your iPod. Giving yourself a mental break will make you feel energized and ready to work and help you avoid a breakdown later on. Plus, having a break to look forward to will motivate you to concentrate on your work throughout the rest of the day.
Stick to your goals!
There are many approaches you can take to start the “New Year” off in a healthy way, but while making up your resolutions, it’s important to make sure that they fit with your lifestyle. “While I agree that setting objective food and exercise goals works for some people, in other cases it can foment a feeling of failure if and when the goal isn't achieved,” Ferraro says. “It's important to remember that goal setting for weight loss [and health] should be individualized; there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”
If objective goals aren’t for you, there are other useful ways to motivate yourself to stick to your resolutions. Make them with a friend, keep track of them with a weekly journal entry or a sticker chart on your wall, set reminders on your phone or write yourself inspirational notes. Ensure that your resolutions are also enjoyable. “You have to accept yourself for the way you are and be the best you can be by doing things you like,” Ludwig says.
So set some goals that'll make you feel your best and ready to face the demands of school head-on. Have a happy and healthy New Year!